I got a note from my editor at TakePart a few weeks ago. He told me about a new movie Participant Media has coming out called The Hundred Foot Journey, which is about an Indian family running a restaurant in Southwest France and their trials adapting to their new culture. (I think he may have spoiled the movie for me when he said they were able to do this through food.) He asked for recipes that use ethnic ingredients in a new way for a new culture—cooking that fuses cultures and people. I jumped at the chance, because even if the movie’s vehicle for adaptation and inclusion (food) seems expected, it really is the case that food brings people together. I’ve seen it happen many times.
My cousin Leif spent too many years in Iraq as a soldier. During his deployments, he was invited into Iraqi homes to eat rice and goat with his hands, sitting on the floor in the company of a welcoming family. They did not speak the same language, yet they continue to stay in touch.
I have been in Brazil and Hong Kong and Mexico, unable to speak to my hosts, but because of shared meals I was able to communicate and express myself and my culture. Food is a powerful unifier. We all eat.
This film got me thinking about French cuisine and Indian cuisine and how far apart they seem at first, but how similar they are. The French fry potatoes; the Indians fry cassava, or yuca. Both are super-starchy roots that make for the most amazing fries. Here, the cassava stands in for the potato, with an Indian spin on a mayonnaise dipping sauce.
Cassava Fries With Curry Mayonnaise
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds fresh cassava (yuca), peeled and cut into sticks (or frozen, not thawed or cut)
About 6 cups vegetable oil
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons curry powder
Cook the cassava in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender when pierced with a knife, 8 to 12 minutes for fresh or 10 to 15 minutes for frozen. Transfer with a slotted spoon to several layers of paper towels and let stand 5 minutes. If using frozen cassava, cut the pieces into 1/3-inch-thick fries, discarding any fibrous core.
Heat about 1 1/2 inches of oil in a medium-heavy pot over moderately high heat until it registers 360° F on thermometer.
Meanwhile, stir together the mayonnaise and curry powder in a small bowl.
Working in batches, fry the cassava, turning, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Then transfer to paper towels to drain briefly and season with salt. (Return oil to 360° F between batches.) Arrange fries in one layer in a shallow baking pan and keep warm in oven while frying remaining batches. Serve with curry mayonnaise.